Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Inevitable, some pervert has found this page looking for something else entirely. I’m sorry for those of you that fit into this category, but the rest of this posting is going to let you down.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

I have long been a fan of wooden cutting boards. It took me nearly ten years before I found one that I liked and I use it every time I cook. I propose to you plastic, glass, and (eek!) countertop cutting folks out there to put down your knives and consider the benefits of a wooden cutting board:

5. Beauty: Although I am a fan of function over ascetics, wooden cutting boards provide the best of both worlds. I own an end grain cutting board set in a check pattern that is as much a part of my wife’s decorating scheme as a useful part of my kitchen. Granted, some cutting boards are pretty plain looking, but even these can quickly become a beautiful part of your kitchen that you will not hide away like other cutting boards.

4. Eco-friendly: I may be a broken record, but anytime you can use an eco-friendly or green product in the kitchen, you might as well. There is a plethora of wooden cutting boards out there, and the bamboo ones are not only sustainable, but incredibly affordable.

3. Resistant to gouging: One thing I hate about the plastic cutting boards is that they easily get gouged and scratched and nicked and these are prime locations for bacteria to live in. Wooden cutting board are almost self healing in that unless you intentionally cut the heck out of your board, it will resist any scratches and be as good as new year after year.

2. Knife friendly: Plastic also has this advantage over glass and stone cutting surfaces, but I prefer wooden cutting boards because they are easier on your knives. Your knives will keep there sharpness longer and you will have to make less trips to the sharpener or the emergency room. A dull knife is extremely dangerous as you tend to put more pressure increasing the possibility of a kitchen injury and a potential missing finger.

1. Ease of cleaning: Wooden cutting boards need only be sealed using mineral oil once a month and washed with warm soapy water. Plastic cutting boards have a tendency to need sterilization and if you place them in the dishwasher, there is a good chance that it will warp. Wooden boards are just easier to wash and keep clean and the antimicrobial properties of wood will decrease the chances that your cutting surface will contaminate your food without you knowing it.

Note: Now I do want to come clean and say that I do own both a wooden cutting board and a plastic. Plastic is used for raw meats and the wooden is used for everything else. I do use my plastic flexible cutting boards for display purposes for the blog, but mostly everything is cut on a wooden board.

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Except when intentionally put there such as salted caramel desserts, finishing salts on soups, snacks such as chips and pretzels, or other uses deemed necessary by the chef, I want everyone to know that

Salt is not meant to be a flavor! Put down the shaker and walk away slowly!

Let me explain. When I was growing up, my kitchen table played host to a napkin holder with a salt and pepper shaker. My guess is your home might also have this or at least you grew up in a similar environment. Whenever dinner came around – and sometimes breakfast – the salt and pepper shakers were passed around to each person who would apply the “correct” amount of salt to their food. This was normal to me as my parents did it who grew up in homes where that was normal. The cycle has probably continued on for generations. But none of it was ever correct. In fact, the salt shaker need not have ever been anywhere near the table.

Among a host of other roles, salt is a flavor enhancer. When used properly in the kitchen, a small amount can boost the flavor of the ingredients inside the dish. You should never actually be able to taste the salt, but the flavors that explode in your mouth would otherwise be pretty dull without it. When added to the cooking process, the chemical makeup of the sodium attaches itself to the molecules in the food. When eaten, these molecules stimulate the salt receptors of your tongue which sends a pleasant good taste signal to your brain. When simply added on top, salt never has an opportunity to attach itself and change the chemical composition of the food your cooking, it just masks the flavor.

If you find yourself constantly adding salt to your food because it tastes pretty bland without it, that just means that you didn’t use enough salt when cooking it. Sure, you can use too much and completely ruin your meal, but you will actually add more salt to your food by shaking it on top than if you added it to your food to begin with. This is one of the hardest things to learn when cooking, but learning how to properly season your food before and during the cooking process is one of the more effective methods of reducing your salt intake and improving your health.

If you are like me, then you have been invited to a least one holiday party in which the host expects you to “Just bring your selves.” I wasn’t raised this way and I feel pretty uncomfortable showing up to even a  simple dinner party empty handed.

I think most people think to bring a bottle of wine, but I’ve noticed that whenever I do bring a bottle, it’s rarely opened. Wine is an acquired taste and you never know if your offering will be well appreciated and enjoyed or banished to the cooking wine shelf to collect dust. So in the spirit of the holidays, I offer you five new ideas that you can bring with you as gifts for your gracious hosts:

1) Champagne: I know what you’re saying. “Isn’t this the same as wine?” No, it’s not. Champagne is luxurious and bubbly and festive and I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy a glass of champagne at any point in the evening. If you are unsure of your hosts preferences, stick with a Brut which will be sweeter and not as dry. For the holidays, you can bring a Rose champagne which are pink in color just to give a little more festive vibe.

2) Gourmet Chocolate: Who doesn’t enjoy a nice bar of chocolate every now and then? For a special host gift, stay away from the big chocolate companies such as Lindt and Godiva and give an array of chocolate bars from a company your host may not have heard of such as Vosges-haut Chocolate. This company makes some pretty wild, yet delicious flavors such as their Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar and Black Salt Caramel bar. Wrap three or four of these bars together tied with some ribbon and you have a pretty memorable gift.

3) Dog Chew Toys: If the host has a dog, it’s never a bad idea to bring a new chew toy to keep their canine companion occupied while you enjoy your meal. If you don’t have a pet store near you, your local supermarket probably has some chew toys. But here’s a word of advice: don’t give them a squeaky toy. You may find yourself without an invitation the next time a party comes around.

4) Homemade Preserves: If you spent anytime during the summer or fall doing some canning, your host would love a jar or two complete with a homemade label and gift tag.

5) Small Gift Basket: Lastly, you can put together a small themed gift basket for very little cost. Grab a bag of colored pasta, a small bottle of good olive oil, and a jar of tomato sauce and you’ve given an instant dinner. Raid the sale racks and you’re bound to find a small collection of fun items your host might enjoy.

There are a bazillion ideas that you can give your hosts that would cost about the same as a bottle of wine. The question becomes whether you are willing to take a little extra time to think about your hosts and hostesses and what you might be able to give them for inviting you to their holiday party.

So readers, what host gifts are you giving your party hosts this year? What have you given in the past? Let me know. I’d love to get some fresh new ideas!

From what I hear, Allagash White is a widely beloved beer from New England. The Allagash Brewery is not more than 1 hour from where I grew up and yes, ascetically, Allagash White is a beautiful beer. I first heard about the Allagash brewery from my best friend. He told me about their extensive line of delicious beers, but that White is the only one he has ever seen on menus. This is what he described as their “mainstream beer for the masses” (aka the Flagship beer) and that it doesn’t hold a candle to how good Allagash’s other beers taste. He mentioned all of this while he was wearing the brewery t-shirt he purchased from his tour; it was hard to not take his word for it.

Allagash White pours a beautifully vibrant cloudy yellow with a fare amount of sediment. It’s aroma reeks of lemon and coriander and is quite pleasing. There was a thick foam settled on top that dissipated quickly leaving very little lacing. Things started to go downhill when I took my first sip and I tasted very little. It was a good beer, but nothing special. There was a mild lemon flavor and some spice notes, but there was nothing overtly complex and fulfilling about this beer; almost watery. As I continued to drink towards the bottom of the glass, I couldn’t help but think that I was drinking a Blue Moon without the need for an orange. Maybe that’s the appeal of it in that it’s a smooth and simple beer. I did order this beer after eating half of a BBQ chicken pizza, so its possible my taste buds were already too overwhelmed to appreciate the subtle flavors. Then again, maybe I’m just making excuses.

I’ve read that Allagash White needs to be drunk from a tulip glass so the taste hits the proper place on your tongue to really enhance the flavor. Even if this is the case, this experience leaves me expecting very little from a round 2. Allagash White can be found in 4 pack bottles for around $9 or on draft. If you enjoy other witbiers such as Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, or Sam Adams White, you may find that Allagash is a pleasing flavor to you as well. I’m still scratching my head over this one, but I will give it another chance if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

Grade: B-

When I was a kid, my mom always had an open box of baking soda hanging out inside the door. Periodically, the box would get tossed and replaced by yet another box of baking soda and so the cycle continued. My guess is that more than a handful of you also grew up with this and probably, like me, have a box sitting somewhere amongst our many jars of half used condiments. But for those of you that are asking yourselves why on earth we would have such an item in our refrigerators, I’m here to tell you why.

You may notice sometimes that your refrigerator is a smelly place and the majority of these smells come from strong acids (like lactic acid that comes from dairy products) or bases (spoiled meat and other proteins). Yes my friends, this should transport you magically back to your high school days when you were sitting in chem class wondering, “What the hell am I ever gonna use this stuff for?”

It all comes down to pH. If the pH gets out of whack, the odors will rise which should instantly sound the alarm that something has gone bad in your refrigerator. Baking soda, however, stabilizes your refrigerator environment by absorbing the odors and restoring sanctity. This may not initially seem like a big deal because at least if you can smell something funky, you know to throw it away, but the problem is much bigger than that.

You see, many of the products that you put in your refrigerator are like sponges and will absorb the stronger acids and bases. That means your freshly bought produce can and will absorb the moldy, stinky cheese smell and will thus taste like spoiled, stinky cheese. That bread dough that you just put in your refrigerator to rise; be prepared for your bread to taste like rotted meat. Pretty much anything you put in your refrigerator has the potential to absorb the odors of the items around it unless it is held inside an airtight, sealed container. This is why they have crisper bins for your produce and tupperware for your leftovers because you could ruin any open air food if left unchecked.

As for placement, I always keep mine in the door of the fridge because that’s where my mom kept it. But really, the baking soda should be near the most likely source of odors. If you tend to keep ripe cheeses at home, put the box right next to it. Making lox at home? Put the box there. It’s portable and just because you put it in one place doesn’t mean you can’t move it later.

So do yourself a favor. Go to your refrigerator right now and check the date on your baking soda box. Don’t see a date? That’s because you didn’t write one on there. If you can’t remember when you put that box in there, it’s time to throw it out and buy a new one. This goes the same for those of you without one. It’ll cost you $3 and will last for 3 to 6 months depending on how many odors it absorbs. If nothing else, consider it an insurance policy for your food.

I think most anyone who enjoys beer has heard of an IPA (India Pale Ale) and can easily distinguish it from most beers by its ever present hoppy flavor. I recently stumbled across Three Floyd’s Alpha King, which is labeled as American Pale Ale (APA). The difference between IPA and APA is summed up well by this post from Thoughts on Beer.

I had my first bottle of Alpha King on a complete whim while eating at Fat Willy’s Rib Shack in northern Chicago (a must for BBQ fans). I hadn’t planned to order a drink, but my dining partners all ordered a spiked drink so I succumbed to peer pressure (Kids: don’t succumb to peer pressure, you’re better than that). While there were other microbrews available, I was pulled in by the Alpha King artwork and careful attention to detail. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a sucker for good packaging.

From the photo above, you can see that Alpha King pours a medium amber color and produces a lovely frothy head. The flavor profile contains the classic Pale Ale bitterness, but is not overwhelming like some IPAs I’ve had in the past. Quite a bit of citrus aroma emerges when poured into a glass (lemon and orange mostly), but much of the aroma never reaches your senses when consumed out of the bottle.

Three Floyd’s is a regional brewery located in Munster, Indiana, not too far from the Illinois border and is pretty difficult to find outside of the northern Midwest. It sells for around $11 per six pack and can be found on draft at establishments that appreciate good beer. While I myself would happily pick up this beer again, I don’t think it stands out as an exceptional Pale Ale in comparison to other microbrews.

Grade: B

If you own a roasting pan, you are probably like 99% of other Americans that take it out once a year to cook a turkey or roast for the holidays. There really is no shame in this. There is actually very little information out there on how to use a roasting pan in your everyday rotation and even less information as to why you should invest in one.

But this article is not for those of you that already own a roasting pan. This article is for the holiday cooks who buy the disposable roasting pans at the supermarket for around $4 and try to cook a 20 pound turkey inside its flimsy walls. Don’t let the packaging fool you. They have different sizes for different sized birds, but in the end, physics and gravity still play a vital role in the cooking process.

My message to those of you who are disposable pan buyers is simple and straight forward:

You have to stop the madness!

I present to you my top five reasons for investing in a quality roasting pan over their rival disposable.

5. Better for the environment: Perhaps my weakest argument, but still. A roasting pan gets cleaned up and put away until its next use while a disposable gets tossed away and sent to a landfill to sit for centuries.

4. Multi-purpose: Turkey, chicken, pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, prime rib, etc. The list of potential cuts in nearly endless, but the point is that your roasting pan is worthy of more than just one use. But wait, there’s more. Not only can the roasting pan be used for different meats, it can also be used for multiple steps in the cooking process. Need to sear your prime rib before cooking it? Just remove the rack and put the pan over two burners. Want to cook some root vegetables with your meal? Just stick them under your meat. Not only will everything come out hot together, the juices dripping off the meat will season your vegetables.

3. Easier clean up: This is one area that disposable lovers have tried to get me on for years, but my retort is air tight. Yes, at the end of a meal, the disposable pan gets tossed away and that’s it. However, in my world, it’s never that simple. What happens if your flimsy disposable has a tiny hole in it and turkey juice begins to drip into your oven creating a solid mass of carbon that no amount of oven cleaner or scrubbing will take off? What happens if on your way to delivering your turkey from the oven to the counter, the flimsy pan buckles under the weight and not only does the turkey hit the floor, but hot juice scalds you and ruins your nice new shoes? I find the potential risk of using a disposable to far outweigh the ease of throwing away a pan at the end of the night. Besides, you’ll have very little to clean up if you consider number two.

2. Ability to make pan sauces: Roasting pans are long enough to cover two burners making it easy to turn your post dinner cooking vessel into a stovetop pan that is ready to make some gravy. Pan sauces, especially after cooking a roast turkey or chicken, are wildly tasty and require no additional kitchen equipment. In fact, the idea of not using more vessels to make a pan sauce makes clean up even easier and by deglazing the pan, you’re going to cook out the worst of the mess from the pan. But if even after all this, consider taking a moment and….

1. Just look at that rack: The rack is put there not as a storage challenge; it’s put there to keep the meat off the bottom of the pan and out of the fat. While roasting, the fat on the meat tends to melt off and drips into the bottom of the pan. Disposable pans do not come equipped with a rack leaving your roast to sit for hours in its own fat. The rack also allows for more air to move around the meat which will give you even cooking and that crispy skin that you’re craving.

Roasting pans are generally inexpensive and by no means should you feel obligated to spend more than $50. I find that most stores offer a great bargain during the holiday season, and almost every department store will have a bargain basement deal on roasting pans the day after Thanksgiving. As for recommendations, ensure that the pan is made of aluminum (plain or hard anodized) in order to keep the weight down and that the handles are riveted to the pan. Some roasting pans have the handles fused to the sides. This is a problem because the handles will heat up as hot as the pan and the handles have more potential to break off over years of use. Calphalon and Cuisinart make a pretty decent pan in general and I find their roasting pans to be fit for the job.